On My Mind, 1, 2, 3

What is most on my mind lately is the lack of arts education for young children. This issue is coming up everywhere I turn.

1. I’ve been working on a story about an urban California school district on the outskirts of Los Angeles where two hundred middle and high school students were inspired to join together to create from scratch a high-caliber marching band that would qualify to march in the parade of parades, The Tournament of Roses Parade, in only eighteen months. The music programs were decimated years ago, the district faces ever-increasing budget shortfalls, and community apathy is rampant. Yet, though music, this diverse group of kids, ranging in size, shape, and color, from varying cultural and economic backgrounds, not only achieved their dream of marching in the 2005 Rose Parade, they began a new tradition, represented their schools with pride, gained the admiration of their peers, and helped to unify the school district.

2. JazzAtWingspread was all about asking questions such as: How do we raise the marketshare for jazz? How do we reach teenagers to gather new appreciation for this music? How do we encourage the appreciation of the arts? My question is “Why has no one mentioned education?” I know there’re a whole bunch of “jazz educators” — all those high school and college band teachers — but they should be the icing on a cake, not the cake itself. Our society is loosing ground because of the lack of arts education in our elementary schools. That is where arts appreciation must start.

3. The National Critics Conference kicked off this morning. It is presumably the first time the national organizations for dance critics, fine arts critics, classical music critics, jazz critics and theater critics have converged to discuss the arts and media coverage of the arts in today’s world. Many of the concerns I heard today are no different than those at the Wingspread conference – “how to we increase the size of the audiences interested in the arts?”

I truly believe that we must expose young children to the arts. I also believe that rather than take time away from “core subjects” or the 3Rs, the arts can be used to explore those subjects. Study the geometry in paintings by Mondrian, the science of sound by exploring different musical instruments, drama of the ancient Greeks, folk dances of foreign cultures, squaredances of the American settlors… Trite as it may sound, children are out future. And, although I really did not plan it this way, that brings me back to the childrens books I spoke of at the beginning of this week.